Issue of November, 10, 2002
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Credit:
Report
The Kyoto Protocol and Its Deserters
By Ranjit Devraj

The multilateral treaty for controlling climate change is looking increasingly weak in the wake of the latest global meeting on the issue, held in India. The appeal issued in the final declaration for more ratifications of the treaty was not enough to compensate for the profound disagreements between governments.

NEW DELHI, (Tierramérica).- The aim to establish obligatory rules for reducing emissions of so-called greenhouse gases that cause global warming continues to be as out of reach as it was prior to the 8th Conference of Parties (COP8) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

After 10 days of wrangling and posturing at COP-8, ), held Oct 23-Nov 1 in the Indian capital, no one could say for sure whether the goal of the UNFCC, set a decade ago, was any nearer.

In fact, until the final "Delhi Declaration" was issued Nov. 1, the future of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol -- the Convention's recipe for curbing climate-changing gas emissions -- seemed bleak.

The Protocol was not even mentioned in the first draft of the declaration, delivered by India's Minister for Environment T. R. Baalu, but suspected to have been midwived by the United States.

The Kyoto Protocol obligates 38 countries of the industrialized North to cut greenhouse gas emissions 5.2 percent with respect to their 1990 levels. To enter into force, the instrument requires ratification by countries that represent 55 percent of all such emissions worldwide. To date, the countries that have ratified the Protocol together are responsible for 37.4 percent.

The adhesion of Canada and Russia, which have yet to decide, would make the Protocol into international law. But the United States -- responsible for a full quarter of all emissions -- announced last year that it was withdrawing from the agreement, casting its ultimate effectiveness into doubt.

The goal of COP8 was to explore mechanisms for setting up a global regimen for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, with all countries involved, in accordance with the "shared responsibility" principle.

If there was a convergence of views it was a strange one. The United States, which has rejected the Protocol, and -- surprisingly -- the developing countries, which support it, agreed on the terminology that "adaptation" to climate change was preferable to the "mitigation" efforts that the European Union (EU) was pressing for.

The chief U.S. climate change negotiator, Harlan Watson, was confident that the ''hard targets'' in the Kyoto Protocol would not only ensure that Washington never ratifies the treaty, but also that developing countries would not care to be bound by even the soft commitments the text envisages for them.

And apparently he was right. India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's scathing criticism of attempts to tie developing countries to certain commitments delighted the United States and dismayed the EU.

Vajpayee skillfully steered away from charges that India was quietly backing Washington on climate change by demanding the impossible: equal per capita rights to global environmental resources.

However, thanks to the efforts of a powerful EU side, the final Delhi Declaration turned out to be emphatic: ''Parties that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol strongly urge parties that have not already done so to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in a timely manner.''

Behind this apparent consensus were all sorts of divisions. It would seem that the open war between the EU and the United States would benefit the developing countries, but it did not quite work that way.

Several members of the EU would have liked to join the United States and reject the emissions reductions prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol. The European bloc kept harping on future commitments by developing countries to occur before implementation of those already made by the industrialized North -- another example of asking for the impossible as a tactical move.

But the glaring fact was that the Protocol is still woefully inadequate to tackle the havoc already being wrought on the Earth's climate, and worse, the all-round reluctance to face up to scientific evidence of climate change.

Germany's environment minister, Jurgen Trittin, finally put the cards on the table when he asserted that the climate change negotiations do not always follow what is scientifically or even economically sound, but instead and followed political compulsions.

''Governments are elected by people and decisions must find political acceptance,'' he said.

Russia, which had committed to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol before the end of this year, seemed to be holding out for more financial or political concessions, and mentioned ''procedural delays'' like the slowness in obtaining translations of documents from previous conferences.

Russia's lead negotiator Yu Izrael even questioned the scientific basis for the Kyoto Protocol. Ironically enough, Izrael happens to be a senior member of the scientific team of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

U.S. negotiator Watson foresaw two climate change regimes emerging, one comprising Kyoto supporters, and the other its deserters. And he did not rule out multiple approaches, saying his own country would pursue bilateral agreements, casting a shadow over the whole concept of multilateralism and a shared world.

COP8 also failed to convince the industrialized world to recognize the ''polluter pays'' principle, nor to allow developing countries or communities to take an industrialized country to court for causing climate change.

Meanwhile, global warming continues to claim victims. This year more than 9,000 people have died from causes linked to climate change, and economic losses surpass 70 billion dollars, according to estimates by the United Nations Environment Program.

* Ranjit Devraj is an IPS correspondent.

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